The Brumby is feral horse that is found roaming free in Australia, with the largest population located in the Northern Territory. This breed is descended from horses that were released or escaped confinement during the early days of settlement in Australia. There are many theories about the origin of its name including one that suggests it is derived from the Aboriginal word baroomby, which means wild in the Pitjara Indigenous Australians’ language. Another theory suggests that the breed was named after Sergeant James Brumby, who left the area in 1804 to travel to Tasmania.
Horses did not enter Australia until 1788, when they were imported for utility and farm work, and by 1800 only about two hundred horses were present. However, horse racing became popular by 1810 and many Thoroughbreds were imported, resulting in a population of about 3,500 horses by 1820. It is thought that horses were primarily located in the Sydney region of Australia by the early 19th century, but they were soon needed for expansion and further settlement. Although there were some reports of escaped horses by the 1840’s, it is thought that feral horses grew in number due to abandonment or release due to varying circumstances.
Today, Australia is home to more than 400,000 feral horses, a population that grows by twenty percent in years without droughts. Although the population is large, it is only considered to be a mild pest to humans. However, if it is allowed to trample vegetation, serious erosion of soil can occur, which makes them a great environmental threat. This breed also impacts other species by negatively impacting vegetation in times of overpopulation. This affects the food sources for birds and the habitat of many creatures including birds of prey and their prey and amphibians, reptiles, crabs, and macropods. This breed can pass exotic disease to other horses and cattle. Despite these factors, the brumby is allowed to remain and is managed because they have historical value and possible economic value.
Management of Brumby populations can be difficult due to public concern, feasibility, and the varying status of the breed as a pest in different states. Some conservationists suggest human culling in order to manage the Brumbies, while others suggest that the breed should remain with no intervention. Current management practices include Brumby running, trapping, fertility control, and lethal shooting by air. Shooting by air is the most efficient method of population control, although it is not considered humane, while fertility treatments are considered the most humane, but these are expensive and difficult to implement each year. Other means of population control include capture and release, which is the most passive and laborious method of control.
Although the Brumbies are feral horses, they can be trained as stock horse and saddle horses. They are captured and used in Brumby training camps that benefit high-risk youths. Events are held in many areas of Australia where riders will use their own horses to catch a Brumby within a short time span. Brumbies are also captured and sold in European meat markets and for their hides and hair, a practice which brings in millions of dollars to Australia.
Image Caption: One of the handy types of brumbies that was caught in what is now the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. He was broken in and was a safe and reliable mount for an septuegenarian lady rider. Credit: Cgoodwin/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)